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Thursday, it always seemed to be a Thursday. Not that Schilling noticed at first. All he could muster was to fall out of bed into his clothes, stroll zombie like to the bus, grunt at the driver and then slump into a seat until the express jolted to a halt. A semi-comatose shuffle through the CBD brought him to his office and the first coffee. Until the first coffee hit the world was simply a blur, an extension of his dreams.
Now more awake, Schilling felt there was something a little strange about the bus today. What was it? A mist? A dew? What was it? A haze, yes, everyone seemed hazy, fuzzy green. From his 20th floor office all he could see was a cloudless day. Laughing dismissively he leant back in his chair. ‘You’re just too damn tired Max.’
His secretary passed in front of his glass walled office. On his secretary’s forehead a gently shimmering green rod protruded. Schilling froze not knowing what to make of it. Even with his secretary out of sight it was almost as if he could still see it, a soft pale green glow. Walking unsteadily to his office bathroom he looked in the mirror and there, in the middle of his forehead, stood his own green rod. The last thing he saw as his world went black was the rod dipping malevolently to the floor.
He came to, a dull pain in the back of his head and green glow to the front. Deciding he really did need the day off Schilling hurried past the outer offices and desks straight to the elevator. Pressing the ground floor express button, he closed his eyes as his rod punched through the elevator floor. At ground floor he headed straight out the door.
The usually crowded pavement now had a jumble of glowing rods added to it. Writhing in a psychedelic green ballet, each rod’s size and motion mirrored its owner’s speed and direction. Every person had one. He backed against the office door, gawping at the crawling traffic. Each car’s occupants had the rods but more elongated, thrusting through windscreens, around corners or bent backwards. Fascinated he watched two blocks of rods from two vehicles extend, connect, and join as one car sped down the street and the other tried to back out of an alley. The sound of screeching metal and tortured brakes as they collided was overshadowed only by green fireworks as the rods flared then retracted.
Steadying himself he set out for the short walk to his bus. The bus trip started in nightmarish fashion, however once used to seeing himself and his fellow passengers seemingly impaled by lime green light sabres he found the pulse of lengthening and contracting rods relaxing. By the time he reached his front door he was looking at the whole thing more as an experience, the product of an overtired mind that with sleep and relaxation would pass.
The rods persisted however and Schilling became accustomed to them. Although not appearing on television or movies, animals had them. He developed a dark pleasure in predicting his cat’s movements and blocking its every turn.
But scaring cats and the occasional colleague did not hold him for long. A businessman first and foremost, Schilling started to think how it could be turned to his advantage. Anything to do with sports he rejected out of hand, other options offered no profit or progress, and automation or reproduction was not possible. By the following Friday he was none the wiser and more frustrated. He believed that advantage should be turned to profit and it was only the incapability of its owner that stood in the way. Was he incapable? Hardly. So why no answer?
Waiting at the kerbside he tried to put it out of his mind. The last Friday afternoon each month was spent with Chalker, his most important client. She was an unusual and brilliant CEO, having fought through ranks of misogynistic blowhards to build the ReoProm conglomerate. Their ritual two hours golf or squash intermingled with business talk was time well spent.
The Bentley pulled up and he stepped inside. To his surprise Chalker was not dressed for golf or squash, but in her usual corporate garb. He looked at his now useless clothes bag wondering what he was in for.
‘I’ve made a change to our usual arrangements Schilling. I’ve a small investment choice I want to go over so I thought it best to go straight to the horse’s mouth’ Chalker grinned.
‘Good’ and, after tapping on the driver’s glass partition returned to her iPad. Schilling pulled out his Blackberry, indulging in the communally separated task of ework.
Ten minutes later the driver deposited them at the member’s entrance of Royal Prestlock race course. Once seated Schindler looked enquiringly at her. ‘Horses? It seems a bit out of character.’
‘Oh no, too risky and variable. But the racecourse itself is totally different.’
He found himself engrossed in the details. As a business proposition the race course was attractive, more so when the adjoining five hectares of urban fringe land was factored in. After an hour Chalker was called away, Schindler deciding to stay on and look around.
Moving to the stands he watched the racegoers’ movement and colours with interest. Like an army of ants, the ebb and flow around the bookmakers, rush to the rails as the horses rounded on the final leg, and the small shower of confetti as their bets failed to pay. The interplay of green rods beating in time with the pace of the crowd added to an attractive display.
At the start of the third race he turned his attention to the horses. He was surprised to see motionless rods on the horses in the starting gates. Four horses had rods longer than the others. Once the race was underway the horses bunched up and, although moving at about the same pace the rods remained static. Just before the turn into the home stretch the four horses with the four longest rods bounded clear of the pack, crossing the line in rod length order. Once across the rods receded, shimmered, and started to act like rods he had grown accustomed to.
It took him two more races to ram home his observations. Until the horses came into the enclosure to start a race both the horse’s and jockey’s rods behaved normally. Once in the starting enclosure the jockey’s rod merged with the horse’s, changing to a fixed, forward facing length, remaining static throughout a race. The relative size of each horse’s rod was how they finished, longest rod to first place, shortest rod to last place. Once the race had finished the jockey’s rod reappeared.
Between the horses turning up in the enclosure to the race start was just short of five minutes. As bookmakers seemed to take bets up until the race itself started there were four minutes from rods appearing to betting close. He flipped through his wallet, past the forest of plastic. A crisp $20 note showed through. Finally, the pay day.
He was opposite the starting enclosure just as the jockeys mounted up for the sixth. Number two instantly developed a huge thrumming shaft of green. He went quickly to the nearest bookie.
‘Twenty on number two please’ thrusting the bill upwards.
‘On the nose?’ pad and pen poised.
‘Beg pardon?’ He had no idea what the old guy meant.
‘To come first mate’ the bookie shot back heavily emphasising the “first”, drawing appreciative chuckles from the crowd.
‘Oh yes, sure, sorry’, with which the bookie scrawled quickly on the pad and handed the slip to him. About as legible as his doctor’s scrawl it was to all intents and purposes meaningless. His horse remained stone cold motherless last until two turns from home when it slowly, achingly pulled itself up from the back of the pack and fell over the line a bare nose in front. Schilling picked up his winnings, bet them on the next race and won again.
Setting up for the final race he noticed that if he picked the first three places successfully the winnings could be far greater. He knew there was no maybe, it was an absolute certainty. After watching the horses line up he placed his bet and watched the race unfold exactly as he knew it would. Schilling picked up his winnings without looking at them and caught a cab for home deep in thought.
Once home he leafed through the wad of cash. It was close on $16,000. Three hours “work”, if it could be called that, one month’s post tax pre-bonus earnings for no more effort than getting a cup of coffee. It was so easy it felt like stealing. A feeling of guilt left him as rapidly as it had arrived. He reached for his mobile phone, excused himself from the office for Saturday for the first time in years, and prepared to make his plans.
It only took that weekend to set most of the system up. He had to be physically present at, or have a clear line of sight to, the racecourse at the right time. He had to be able to access bookmakers in a four-minute gap. Most importantly, it had to be discrete, anonymous. He knew that the bookies at Prestlock would not soon forget his face. If he appeared there or anywhere regularly winning questions would be asked; it did no good to take tens of thousands out of a racecourse day after day. He had to be able to place bets off course in that four minute gap. It was the one thing that he could not do. He could either get someone in from outside, an unknown quantity, a potentially uncontrollable risk factor. Or he could get someone close, tied. He knew the perfect person.
The following Tuesday Schilling called Larsen from IT into his office, greeting him cordially but warily. To him Larsen resembled a cross between Dicken’s Fagin and Ayoade’s Moss. Weedy and preposterously socially awkward, Larsen was the best they had in remote and wireless applications development. At 36 he would have headed IT if he had a shred of social skill. What little else Schilling knew of Larsen was that he was regarded as the office’s greatest and least successful sleaze, could not hold more than one drink, and was very easily and totally intimidated by those higher up the ladder. Larsen seemed like just his man.
Larsen sat in front of the vast oak desk regarding the figure seated behind it as an object of both fear and derision. What does Maxwell Schilling want with me? Everything Larsen was Schilling wasn’t. From the tailored Armani suit to the smooth as oil boardroom style, the gulf between them was immense and unassailable. That Schilling put the fear of god into him was an obvious understatement but, as is often the case, it was based not on respect but on loathing.
‘So Larsen’ Schilling began, ‘I have a small project that requires your skill. It’s for an existing client of ours, ReoProm. You’ve heard of them?’
Larsen hadn’t. He nodded.
‘Good. They are a critical client of ours, diversifying into racecourse ownership and patron services. They’ve come to us for help. Drink?’ he finished, avoiding the crystal decanters to his right and motioning to the espresso machine on his left.
‘Yes, thanks, flat white no sugar please.’
Schilling smiled, set the controls for Larsen’s drink and his own short black.
‘ReoProm wants to maximise revenue on the racecourses it will own. They’ve identified off course betting as a priority. Each track gets a slice from on track bookmakers but they get nothing if a patron uses off track bookmakers.’ He finished his drink and looked up.
‘They have asked is if it is possible to develop a small program, an app, that can link to multiple betting services at one time, making real time bets on which they take a fixed percentage commission.’
Larsen nodded. ‘Of course, but there are good ones out there already, it’s not something that we actually need to do.’
‘They do know that, but they gave me a list of some features that they can’t otherwise obtain,’ handing a single A4 page across the desk.
Larsen studied it for a few seconds then looked up. ‘It looks Ok. Some things, well, they’re a bit different but of it’s what the customer wants …’
‘... which it is …’
‘ … then the customer gets it. And apart from the obvious question of delivery time, I’m just a little bit curious about why they asked us to do this. They’ve got their own guys, or could have gone to a developer firm.’
Schilling stood up and perched on the front of the desk. ‘It’s my fault, actually. When I was talking they mentioned they were going to outsource the job. I said we could do it faster, better and ensure the privacy that ReoProm likes. I know’ spreading his hands, ‘that I may have made a promise from ignorance but I have seen what we can do and a foot in another door can’t hurt.’
He looked Larsen in the eyes. ‘It can be done?’
‘Well yes, I see no reason why not.’
‘So how long? It’s got to be bullet proof, can’t afford a dud. Oh, and it’s in addition to everything else.’
Larsen thought briefly. ‘Four, maybe six weeks tops, if you want it perfect.’
‘I can’t afford to give them a faulty product, let’s say six weeks to get it just right.’
Schilling watched Larsen leave with the A4 page with both hope and trepidation. He had no doubts Larsen could deliver, but now another had been added in. Hopefully the ReoProm angle was enough to keep him in line.
Larsen agreed with Schilling in one respect. He could do the job and, quite frankly, could do it in a week after hours. The app he had been asked to build was very simple. It was also an opportunity. Although Larsen’s work mates thought they knew him they had no idea of what he was into, the trouble it had bought him, or the people he dealt with. It was sucking the life out of his finances but as long as he could feed it it didn’t matter. He was always on the lookout. And Schilling, the idiot, had just handed him the golden goose. Larsen had no doubt that ReoProm would watch its commission like a hawk but the punters, now that was different. Larsen’s idea was tried and tested, a simple rounding skim leaving ReoProm’s commission alone and skimming the difference between ReoProm’s actual commission and the next five cents on each punter’s bet, plus a skim on any winnings. Not much on each bet, but across all it would add up. A few lines of code and no one would be able to see the actual figures. Only ReoProm would be left untouched, and what would the chances be of a winning punter checking to the last cent?
As good as it was it could be better. It was one thing to skim but why not piggy-back on successful punters? He smiled. The horses were always rigged. He busied himself with making a backdoor tracker.
Schilling wanted to hide the app clearly in the open. The best solution was to actually roll the thing out with ReoProm, make it a value-added proposition to Chalker. In fact it was easier than Schilling had imagined as Chalker could not resist the idea of 0.25% or even 0.5% passive income. In fact when the app was delivered she had taken it and, with minor re-branding, spit it out as freeware for general public use, not just at Royal Prestlock. Nothing if not patient, Schilling decided to wait three weeks until the app was well and truly embedded before starting.
Larsen had more pressing issues to deal with, so he kept a closer eye on matters. In the first week $100 came through, a paltry amount but a start. Weeks two and three produced over $1,000 each, enough for him to make his payments and a little over. It wasn’t enough by itself though, his tastes had changed, gotten harder, and he needed more. He started to go through the betting data, looking for the systematic winners, the ones to mimic.
Schilling was ready to start. He had decided to make sure he lost at least 80% of the time but that at the end of each month he was exactly where he wanted to be. Avoiding large odds, staying with short ones for his wins, appearing like an average punter. He had picked out the seven tracks within an easy three hour drive, intending to rotate randomly through them, sometimes betting with one agency, or some, or all. No pattern, no regularity, no tell-tale fingerprint, all cased in five randomly rotating app accounts.
Over the following two months the app worked perfectly, being taken up by an ever-increasing group of punters. Schilling still appeared the upright corporate and tax citizen his office demanded him to be. Everything he was doing, although a little unorthodox, was perfectly legal. He took pains to keep it that way, even to the point of paying to the cent the correct tax on his winnings. At the track no one noticed or cared, he was just the quiet guy in the stands who turned up every so often. Putting a few dollars through the on course bookmakers helped, never any big wins, just small wins, small losses, looking every bit like the cash strapped punter he was trying to portray. Smooth as silk, no problems, no issues. Two or three years of this then just walk away. Maybe.
Larsen was not so settled. Schilling was used to having more than enough money and could control and moderate his behaviour, Larsen wasn’t. Financially he’d always lived on the edge. His habits kept him nailed there, owing money to people he really didn’t want to owe to for things he didn’t want anyone to know about. The only limit to his appetite was his income. Greater income just seeped away on more of the same. Now he simply routed his skimmings straight through to his creditors.
He sighed deeply, rubbing salve into to gouges across his chest and abdomen. He’d failed to find that one punter he could mimic, one that was consistently above the line. No discernible patterns nothing he brooded, pulling a few shards of glitter from his thigh, it goes straight in and straight out to theirs and I’m nearly square each week. Just one, I need just one of them to make consistent gains in each day, just one … and he broke off cursing himself a fool.
‘One day? One DAY!?! What sort of idiot am I?’ He leant forwards, resetting his tracker. One day isn’t enough for any pattern, lucky or bent, it needs more time, more time. I’ve got three months of data, what’s happening in three months? Almost as quickly as he thought it he saw it. Of all the thousands using the app a small slice were above even for the whole period; a smaller slice far enough above to be earning a good income; and of those a very small number stood out as far ahead each month. Bent Larsen thought, they’re bent but smart, noting how anything other than a long term view of their entire betting history would not show a thing.
‘Now where are you?’ muttering, starting to run back the IP traces. It didn’t take him long to find it. Five accounts were being run out of one device. Never simultaneously, never in the same sequence, but in a seemingly random mix up that never saw activity in one account for more than four hours in any one day. Taken as a whole it was crystal clear, always a long way up each month. He dug further into the accounts that linked back to the banks and …
He nearly fell off his chair laughing, head thrown back, tears rolling down his face. ‘I bloody knew it!’ he roared, ‘Perfect, oh god so perfect! Schilling! Mr I’m-so-damned-corporately-upright Schilling’s scamming the ponies!’
For a second blackmail occupied his mind, good god what he could get, but he thought better of it. Best to keep it in his back pocket, keep it for the day he could really use it, really need it. It didn’t matter now how Schilling was doing it, Schilling would never go for anything that wasn’t ironclad. Ok, whatever you’re getting I’ll get more, starting to code a simple piggy-back. Every bet you make I’ll make as well. But no pussyfooting around, oh no, once there’s enough in the kitty I’ll at least double your bets. Easy money in the bank with insurance on top. Larsen could hardly control himself, hardly keep a straight face. Finally he was going to get what he knew he deserved.
Thursday, it always seemed to be a Thursday. Schilling felt ready for anything after the green bars. His evening bus load of green horned unicorns now all sported tiny cobalt blue skull caps of varying widths. The largest one covered the whole head above the ears, the smallest the size of a coffee cup. Schilling smiled, settled back. Another mystery, another piece of weirdness and undoubtedly another profitable opportunity to be pursued.
Naawaina carefully adjusted his jacket in the porch light. He’d never felt totally comfortable squeezing his 100 kilogram Maori frame into it, but he had an image to project, a reputation to keep. I am after all a businessman, just that my tools of trade are a little different. His paw gently closed around the brass dusters in his pocket. A little different but equally effective.
One of the grubs that had a particularly sordid taste had apparently become too financial in the past few months. And grubs with money became indiscreet and dangerous. ‘Send a message and find out what’s with the new cash’ he’d been told, ‘and take his handler with you.’ Naawaina glanced sideways at Ilmari beside him, short and stocky in slacks and cardigan. He didn’t like the Finn, thought him an amateur who was dipping into the merchandise. One day he would get to pay Ilmari a business call, and that would be more pleasure than work.
Ilmari took off his sunglasses and, after carefully placing them in his back pocket, rang the doorbell. The sound of muffled voices made their way out, a curtain to one side seemed to briefly open and close, but no one answered the door. Ilmari rang the doorbell again. Again no response. Ilmari took his mobile phone out.
‘Ten seconds, we know you’re at home. Just a little friendly chat, no trouble, but if it’s not open shortly you’ll need another door.’ He smiled hesitantly at Naawaina. The Kiwi had a reputation, and he was worried. Hopefully this was all about the mark and not him. A series of soft clicks brought his attention back to the door. It opened fully to reveal a disorganised, if clean, interior. The face peering out had the same look. Ilmari stood aside letting Naawaina’s bulk slide past him into the house.
‘Thank you’ he intoned to the now ashen face, closing the door gently and sliding the latch across with an ominous click. ‘We’ll have that little talk now,’ ushering the figure towards the kitchen, ‘as soon as my associate finishes his tour.’ Larsen nodded glumly.
Naawaina replaced the blade in his scabbard and, holding the door open, watched the child walk out into the night. Now dressed and removing the last bonds from his wrists he didn’t spare a backwards glance. With a small grunt the Kiwi closed and latched the door. Business, it’s all business even though I hate what this grub does. As he entered the kitchen he could see Larsen facing him seated on a stool, Ilmari seated opposite, leaning forwards. A look inside the fridge liberated a cola and two doughnuts, with which he sat on the edge of the benchtop and gave a short nod to Ilmari.
‘Right, let’s talk money my friend, what you got and what you owe.’
Larsen looked bemused. ‘Owe? I don’t owe anything, I’m ahead.’
‘Yes, you are. You’ve never been ahead before, not until three months ago.’
‘Yeah, well, I’m just getting better you know, a few good breaks …’
‘Don’t put nobody eighty thou ahead! Where you getting it?’
‘I’m not owing, you get what I use ahead now, I’m always ahead. So what’s the issue?’
‘You’ve gone from two thou a month to forty plus, you’re getting richer tastes and you’re still just a shit puncher at work. You know what that tells me? It tells me something’s going on that we need to know about. So. What is it?’
Larsen spread his arms wide in earnest. ‘Nothing, I told you, a few good breaks at work and that. I mean, I’m pushing it all your way you know, I mean, you guys have just the hottest damned …’
The Kiwi stood up, glaring at Larsen who immediately shut up and shrank back. Brushing the odd crumb from his lapel he replaced Ilmari and moved the stool closer to Larsen, just inside arm’s reach. He smiled gently.
‘What perhaps you do not understand is that we are here for your welfare. In fact, we need to know how you are getting all this extra cash not for ourselves, but to help you.’
‘Help me? How the hell do you …’ The impact from the Kiwi’s open-handed slap nearly took Larsen’s face off, the rapidly reddening shape of five perfectly formed fingers rising from his cheek. The only thing that distracted him from the titanic ringing in his ears was the shock of the backhanded slap on his other cheek as the Kiwi bought his arm back.
‘So now you see’ taking the dusters from his pocket, obviously and gently sliding his left hand in to them, ‘that telling us will help your welfare. I am, unfortunately, not a patient man so you will understand if I have to, ah, encourage you.’
Larsen started to shake, trying to resist an urge to piss. He shrank back on the stool, finding his arms locked behind him. Ilmari leant closer in to him, close enough for Larsen to smell the coffee and riisipuuro on his breath.
‘Ok, ok!’ still trying to wriggle back, ‘yeah, yeah, I’ve got money, it’s horses you know, I’m making it on the ponies.’
The Kiwi stared at him, expressionless. ‘No one does that well unless they are bent or on the inside, and you don’t seem to me to be …’
‘No, no!’ shrieked Larsen, ‘no, I got a system, I got a chump who never loses, never, always ends up ahead, believe me,’ twisting to look into Ilmari’s eyes, ‘you gotta believe me!’
Larsen felt a huge paw grab his jaw, pulling him round to look square into the Kiwi’s face. He scrunched his eyes hard, waiting for the hit that would surely take out his teeth. When it didn’t come he gingerly opened one eye.
‘You see’ noses nearly touching, ‘how talking to us helps you.’ Larsen nodded as best he could in that vice-like grip. ‘So let us continue our conversation, and nice and clear and slow so we have no need to, ah, encourage you further yes?’
‘Yes, yes’ he squawked.
‘Very well’ leaning back and releasing Larsen, ‘please start again from the beginning. You said ponies yes?’
‘Yeah, horse races, ponies. Look, some months ago …’.
Across town Schilling was attending a different exclusive gathering. For the tenth year in a row corporate profits had outstripped records and congratulations – and expensive red – were flowing like water on the rooftop penthouse. The 38th floor garden was an extravagant expression of wealth and power, one fitting the head of Schilling’s firm. Schilling smiled to himself. Just one level away from the boardroom and it just doesn’t matter, I could buy this penthouse, the while block of them, the firm itself. Seeing the managing director across the grass he smiled broadly and raised his Grange in salute. Perhaps, just perhaps I have set my sights too low. Unlimited wealth, totally legal, I can with care do nearly anything. He grinned. Yes, another mouthful of red later, anything or anyone.
Across the rooftop the junior levels were getting rowdier. Part of the fun of these events was watching it unfold, watching the flow of high spirits and expensive drink collapse barriers and controls until, at the right point, they could be plucked off one by one for some “intensive mentoring”. Part of the game, part of the fringe benefits of power and wanting to gain power. He was happy that Chalker wasn’t here this year, she always played that game harder and keener than he.
The juniors had now moved closer to the glass railing, Schilling looking on bemused as one of the blue skull caps shimmered and then started to shrink at an alarming rate. It’s owner, perched precariously on the glass railing giggled, jumped up and started tightrope walking along the ledge. Her blue skull cap rippled, contracted and then popped out of existence. Her heels slipped and soundlessly she plummeted over the edge. Schilling rushed to the railing looking at the crowd of people and cars gathering around the small red dot thirty-eight floors below.
The Kiwi listened attentively to his mobile phone. He had heard Larsen’s tale twice and, as improbable as it had sounded, believed him. That Larsen had produced the device and his bank account records – after some gentle persuasion – had helped. Although he had the answers he was sent to get, there were times you needed to take things upstairs. This was one of them, so he had rung in and now had just finished repeating the story.
On the other end of the line his boss was thinking fast. This one little pervert had, somehow, managed to finger each and every rigged race in the past few months. The fact that somewhere someone else knew meant eventually others would and this little earner would fall, maybe the whole edifice with it. It was too much to risk.
‘And he’s wiped out his skimming and tracking apps?’
‘Good. You have all the software, the computer drive, backups?’
‘In my bag and in the car.’
‘And that name again?’
The Kiwi heard again the short intake of breath.
‘Ok. It needs to be wrapped up, cleaned. Erase it. One other thing.’
‘Clean up that shit Finn too. No lose ends.’
The Kiwi put the mobile pack in his pocket, moving into the kitchen.
‘All good?’ Ilmari asked.
‘Yes’ standing behind Ilmari, facing Larsen. Larsen didn’t feel good, looking at the two of them smiling at him.
‘I’m going to be fine?’ looking at Ilmari and Naawaina in turn.
The Kiwi smiled and seeming instantly grabbed Ilmari’s chin in one hand and, placing an arm around his shoulders, gave one rapid wrench. Accompanied by the sickening crack of vertebrae Ilmari slumped lifeless to the floor.
Larsen shrank back, mouthing soundlessly as the Kiwi closed the short gap between them.
‘Understand’ lifting Larsen up from the stool by the neck, ‘that this is purely business although I am not particularly fond of you.’ The knife seemingly appeared by magic in his right hand and, with one stroke, lanced into Larsen’s brain through his left eye. Dropping the body to the floor he extracted the knife, wiping it clean on Ilmari’s slacks before replacing it in its scabbard. He turned on the gas, exited the kitchen and dropped a lit cigarette onto the carpet. Driving away he saw the first fingers of flame jumping from the front windows.
Friday afternoon Schilling stood on the kerb waiting for Chalker. Lost in thought he didn’t notice the taxi stop, or the large presence behind him until something cold, hard and menacing prodded him in the back.
‘Eyes front, shuddup and get into the cab.’ the presence ordered. Schilling didn’t need to see it to know not to argue, so he climbed in through the opened door. The driver stared back impassively through the grille to the man-mountain now sitting next to him, and then took the taxi out into the flow of traffic.
Schilling looked beside him. ‘If it’s money you want, I can give it to you, all of it, there’s no need …’ stopping cold at the look coming his way.
‘I asked you to be quiet Mr Schilling’ the Kiwi hissed, ‘so please remain so. Your money is nothing.’
Schilling sighed, looked ahead. If it’s not money I’m a hostage then, and in real trouble. The taxi continued it’s journey in silence.
Schilling came to, bound to a chair in a small, bare room. Faint shadows danced in time with the sway of the solitary bulb. He didn’t know how long he had been out but he knew how he had gotten that way. His glasses lay broken on the floor, the taste of blood in his mouth. Chin on bare chest he could see small welts and bruises, too small for the pain that placing them there had given. Grudgingly he admitted that the man-mountain knew his stuff, applied the right lever to the right place. And now he – or they – knew everything.
He lifted his face to the mirrored wall opposite. He looked a mess, blue skull cap and green bar notwithstanding. At least they left my underwear on, spared one final indignity.
The Kiwi delicately wiped the last few spots of blood from his right knuckles. For the second time in a week he had heard an unlikely, impossible, explanation of events. And for the second time he knew beyond a doubt the explanation was true. Rods. Rods on horses. He shook his head. Discarding the tissue he buttoned his jacket.
Schilling was starting to regain his senses, his composure. He had no illusions about his situation, precarious no matter what the outcome. But he had the skill, the capability no one had, a bargaining chip. It was simply another business dealing he told himself, one with different rules and roles, but business none the less.
The Kiwi waited in silence. The immaculate, slightly built figure standing at the one-way mirror was since his mother’s death the only person that held his total and unquestioning respect and obedience. They combined an iron will and professional self-control with clinically cold and calculatingly rational cruelty. That they controlled a legal conglomerate acting as a front for the largest illegal operation in the country wasn’t surprising. That in this, the most male of male dominated arenas she was a woman, was.
She turned back from the glass towards the Kiwi. ‘Let this be another lesson for you Naawa’ Chalker started, ‘in this business anything can happen. This man has helped us before but now …’. She sighed gently. Really, what did she care that Schilling made some extra out of the horses, but his stupidity with Larsen was unforgivable. And more so using ReoProm as the vehicle, placing her in the spotlight.
‘Business is business Naawa, never forget that.’ She turned her back to him, moving towards the exit. ‘I want you to …’
Schilling jumped instinctively as the door opened and the Kiwi lumbered in. He felt his stomach knot and cold sweat break out on his forehead. Not from the Kiwi, not for the same impassive cold look on his eyes. But next to him, on the mirrored wall, he could see his reflection. And on the top of his head his blue skull cap rippled, contracted, then popped out of existence.
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